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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateWench

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    Default The railroading problem: source & solution

    There are those who enjoy participationism and don't regard railroading as a problem. I recognize that. This thread is not about arguing whether or not railroading is a problem, it is stated as a premise. If you don't agree with the premise, you are still free to participate in the thread, but I am not writing this to debate that point.

    In order to provide some background; I recently bought the 5e core rulebooks, and decided to pick up an adventure module as well, which ended up being "Horde of the Dragon Queen". I haven't read a written adventure in a very long time, so one could hope my eyes were fresh and untouched by prior judgement. However, it occurred to me that the only way to run the adventure was to railroad. It was even implied in the text with sentences such as "Before the characters arrive, X event must take place" (not a direct quote). What followed was also something that can best be described as a "cut-scene" where the assumption was that the PCs mainly sit and watch as an NPC talks to them.

    This got me thinking about the railroading problem again, which by the many stories told, seem to be far too common around roleplaying tables across the world. Mainly, I am curious as to why it is so common, and possible also what can be done to minimize its occurrence.

    Reading the adventure book, the answer to the first question seemed rather obvious. It seems as though prospective DMs simply suffer from lack of inspirational material.

    A roleplaying game can not be set up like a book, or a movie, or a computer game. Yet this is the place where most people seem to draw their inspiration from. The phrase "if you want to tell a story, go write a book" is a common anti-railroading DM sentiment. But why do DMs try to write books at their table? Well, that's what they are familiar with, the source material for their creativity if you will.

    This makes it doubly disappointing that written adventures follow the same railroading model, as they are the only other source available to most DMs. It appears as though the only non-railroading inspirational source is other roleplaying games where the current DM has already learnt to avoid it. Otherwise, there is really nothing.

    So, can we do anything to solve this issue? Is it possible to write adventure modules that are inherently non-railroady in nature? Can the DMG offer advice or inspiration? Basically, is there a way in which we can provide inspirational material for DMs to help them construct games not as books or movies, but more fitting to the roleplaying medium?
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Working on the premise that this is an issue, then I would say it's practically impossible to avoid a certain degree of railroading when using a prepared adventure. I mean, you have to give your guys/gals a gentle nudge towards what is there, right? You have to at least show them where the adventure is and try to pull them in. And then, sure, you can leave it up to them to either take the bait or not.

    It's also possible to write an adventure that railroads as little as possible. This would basically come down to working out locations and perhaps a sequence of events that your players can influence or--if they choose not to participate--that culminates in a certain event that may or may not influence them. And that adventure may end up being as vague as my previous sentence, but at least it will not do too much to railroad.

    So how to get GMs that can host a non-railroady adventure?

    I would say that GMs that railroad do so because they want to: they are focused on their idea for the game/story. After all, GMs are no blank slates that sacrifice themselves so that others can have fun; they have expectations of their own and play the game for their own entertainment. Oftentimes (and especially with new GMs) these expectations are in the form of knowing what story they want to play. That doesn't mean they 'lack inspirational material;' it means they have a certain goal for their own entertainment.

    To solve this, you'd need GMs who focus on a different part of the role-playing experience and are perhaps more interested in group dynamics, applications of rules, detailed world-building, and so on. Unfortunately for you, most GMs get into the game because they enjoy playing out the story they have in their heads. I don't think you should dismiss these people by saying 'go write a novel' as much as you should dismiss people who don't want to be railroaded by saying 'go play in a sandbox.' Over time, these guys/gals can grow to like the hobby for other reasons than just projecting their story and may become more flexible.

    But it's not all GMs, though. A non-railroady adventure requires players that can deal with that freedom to be fun. And to be fair, a lot of players may complain about railroading, but are often way too laid back in the game to be able to make decisions without some sense of direction, a few gentle nudges, or even being outright told what to do.

    I am fairly sure that there is a way to try to teach GMs the skills necessary to improvise and avoid railroading, but the conclusion of my story is that a lot of GMs simply do not want to (yet) because they find it less entertaining
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Lorsa View Post
    So, can we do anything to solve this issue? Is it possible to write adventure modules that are inherently non-railroady in nature? Can the DMG offer advice or inspiration? Basically, is there a way in which we can provide inspirational material for DMs to help them construct games not as books or movies, but more fitting to the roleplaying medium?
    I would say the best way to go about this would be with a published flowchart as part of the module.

    While one could argue the entire idea of a module is a railroad (do THIS adventure, etc); you would need to publish a module that is not just "The Lair of the Ice Queen" or something similar.

    Your module would now need to be a geographic region and a flowchart of possibilities.

    So it would not be a railroad per se; but a branching series of choices that try their darnedest to second guess a typical groups' decision making.

    The group comes upon a seemingly abandoned village.. there's blood in the snow and footprints to the west (Go to Pg 10); there's faint smell of something cooking to the north (go to pg 13), someone has a vision of a small girl running to the east (go to pg 16); etc.. with enough details on the buildings and what they could contain, adventure or information.. to give the group a number of hooks to bait themselves.

    and perhaps the module could pontificate about what one could do if the players start really going off the page, so to speak

    And each of these hooks, could lead to more hooks.. and more hooks.. until you've decided this module is full. In effect you wouldn't be publishing a module so much as publishing a bunch of related story hooks; with a loose guide for how they tie together.. so one group might wind up freeing children from a den of werewolves, only to realize the wolves are their parents.. while another group may decide to seek treasure in the lair of the ice queen (and hope they don't get turned into werewolves.. synergy); and even better is that your group now has to decide amongst themselves what to do; full well knowing there is no 'right' answer.. so now they are left with whats best for the groups dynamic; not the DM's endgame..

    Sorry, back to the basic issue; I had done something similar in a DCA game; allowing for each encounter to have at least 3 possible outcomes; and each one leading to a separate follow-up encounter; or a bonus in the next encounter, or a separate entry point to next section. The players would only play thru this flowchart once, so they wouldn't know the other options; AND there is no set track of how to accomplish the advancement to the end stage (in this case, it was to free Santa Claus.. lol)

    Lastly, IF you published such a module, I would defnlee include a link to a forum or other internet site; where users can collaborate on other outlandish ideas or 'monkeywrenches' they may have faced. You can't prepare for anything, but you can defnlee try; or at least give the illusion of.

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    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    A certain degree of buy-in to the storyline - which can be viewed as an acceptance of railroading - is essential to any game that isn't 100% pure sandbox. And even those require just a little bit of buy-in to the notion that your PCs should at least work together well enough to share screen-time 95% of the time.

    When running any sort of module - prepared, pre-written, or just some notes the DM has put together of the next arc - it requires enough buy-in from the players that they agree they want to pursue plot hooks the DM lays out.

    The problematic form of railroading, then, is generally that which steps beyond assuming the players are interested in playing the game, and into the territory of denying the players the choice in how to go about it. It assumes actions or inactions on their part, or it denies them the ability to make a meaningful effort in any way, or it requires them to apply the star-shaped peg to the star-shaped hole with no means of working around it no matter how creative they are nor how well-suited other powers and talents they may have are to resolving the situation.

    Prepared modules sin most greatly here with "boxed text." Too much boxed text assumes, as Lorsa notes, that the PCs are passive observers. They're not going to - and, depending on how good the DM is at improvising, not allowed to - interrupt the boxed text. It will play out.

    Boxed text done right describes scenery, some quick what's-going-on-as-you-arrive details, and then lets the players react. If a speech must be given by an NPC, there should be a note to the DM as to what happens if he's interrupted, or at least clarity in the module as to what reasonably could. (Interrupting the king with an attempt to shoot him from the crowd with a fireball is going to spark a response from his guards, for example. The module should also note what security measures, if any, the king has taken for his protection while giving such a speech! Assuming PCs are going to resort to violence is probably a safe "first order derailment" contingency.)

    But the main point is this: when designing modules, make sure that the situation without the PCs present is well laid-out, and that NPCs' plans and events that will happen absent player intervention is discussed. Hooks are potential ways the PCs can get involved, and advice for the most likely course of action taken by the PCs should be given, but nothing should assume they will do something.

    Old pre-written dungeons had a lot of "if/then" clauses. "If the players have the Mask of Darjo from Room 67, then they can wear it here to be accepted by the robed statues as a legitimate priest of the order," or the like. It doesn't assume the players have already been to Room 67 and taken the mask; it specifies a possible action they may have taken which will alter something in the current room.

    Too many modern adventures - professionally written and homebrewed - make assumptions about what the PCs will have already done. Unless those actions are essential to have gotten to the point being described, "if/then" clauses - including at least one default "if they've managed to get here without doing any of that stuff" clause to catch-all - are essential.

    And one final biggie: never assume PC success or failure, unless that is specifically what brought the PCs to the current situation. And, when that's the case, it should be organic: what happens if they failed/succeeded should be known. If "failure" brings them to Subplot C, Room A, then "success" should also have a means of continuing the main module (perhaps through Subplot B). It is, however, acceptable to have success be the only way to continue an adventure...if you're okay with the adventure ending should the party fail. Be aware of whether you're okay with this or not at any given juncture! (A TPK is a good example of such a module-ending failure.)

    The better a job the module does of spelling out the situation and who's doing what without the PCs' actions, and who is looking for somebody (who could be the PCs) to do something, the easier it is to run it as a non-railroad. The key, I think, is in writing the situation, rather than the solution.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Agreed with Segev. Some "railroading" will happen in anything but an absolutely pure sandbox with no restrictions on PVP.

    Same point as Segev, just shorter, it ultimately boils down to DMs creating plots rather than situations or scenarios. A plot has a specific way it's going to work from point A to B to C. There's one (or more) planned outcome(s) that rely on an assumption of player behavior. A situation may have conditions and prerequisites, but otherwise doesn't assume, and the DM alters it as needed to account for player actions or inactions. As Segev said, Basic, 1e and several (definitely not all *cough*Dragonlance*cough*) 2e modules were usually better about presenting situations instead of plots.

    Most players chafe at railroading when it prevents them from doing something they want to do or forces them to do something they don't. A more subtle form of railroading that's easier for a DM to fail to realize they've done, but that will usually result in the same player resentment, is crafting a plot when you think you're crafting a situation, such that it plays out the same as if you'd plotted it--taking away too many options or having too few acceptable solutions. Narrowing the ways a situation can be interacted with and resolved until only one way to do it (or very specific ways the players aren't thinking of) remains, so that the players feel forced to do it the DM's way or not at all.
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Indeed. The problem of railroading is really one of player perception. I don't mean that players perceive something that isn't there; I mean that it's a problem when players recognize it's happening and it upsets them. This usually comes about because the players want to do something and the module won't let them. Note: not the game won't let them (e.g. a wizard wanting to enter into a rage or use a flurry of blows will fail, because he doesn't have mechanics that let him do that). The module won't let them. Because the NPC is talking and won't be interrupted until his boxed text is over, or the module only allows the carborundum skull to be traded to the kobold chief for his amulet of princess-rescuing, and nothing else, and won't let the party even try to take it by force because the module demands they go get the carborundum skull and use it for this specific purpose.

    When the module sets things up such that nothing but a predefined solution (or set of solutions) will work, it feels like railroading (because it usually is). It tells players that their 24 strength half-ogre barbarian can't shatter a simple wooden door because the solution requires them to find the key to unlock it, instead. Or that the door is actually adamantine, despite it making no sense for that to exist in the location it does.

    The common counter-argument is, "But I don't want to just let them have whatever they suggest work! That's just happy wish-fulfillment time, and there's no accomplishment if they always succeed no matter what they try!"

    That's a false dichotomy. The middle ground the GM should seek (and the module writer should try to design) is one where there are many possible solutions based on the design of the scenario, not ONLY the ones the module-writer or GM thought up when he developed the scenario.

    A good warning sign is that any time you find yourself working with numbers whose values amount to "enough" - such that statting out what the PCs attempt is pointless unless they find another set of numbers that are "enough" to help them - it's probably railroading. This isn't always bad, but if it's used, it should make sense and it should be mainly used to help the players go for what they bought into when they signed up for the game.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Hmmmm... My playing group has for a long played with content we have made (Perhaps based in a setting, but the adventure, campaign and such were made by us), Until about 2 years ago, when I had less time due to RL (I am the GM), and so we opted to try a published Adventure Path, namely The Wrath of The Righteous by Paizo. I've made an extensive log about it, though we have recently stopped.

    Part of the main reasons we stopped, was due to the railroading, and the assumptions. The party wanted to go on very divergent routes from the modules, or explore vastly different interests. There are some situations in the paths that. as mentioned, assume a very set way of solving stuff, and really give no thought, or no space to other solutions...

    At this point I'd like to mention An excellent summary which Yora made some time ago, about the same subject. She sums it up quite nicely, and have an idea for an for a solution, which she called the "Task based adventures". In short, she suggests the modules would detail the setting in which the adventure takes place, a conflict/ occurrence/ which requires/ involves the PCs, and the main forces (antagonist, allies, other NPCs, entities and organizations), and their plans and resources to accomplish their goals, along with a few mentions of "If X happens, then Change Y will occur". but other than that- no set assumed actions, no harsh requirements.

    Or in short- The module should detail a more contained setting, one or more conflicts, and the means of each major powers to try and achieve them. Through in the PCs, and just see what happens, and... adjust and improvise, as needed.

    For example: In a small duchy, the duke has become more and more recluse since the death of his wife, and his sheriff has "taken liberties" securing the area, and is accumulating power. yet he is corrupt, and various outside forces start making advances- be them orc marauders, the "spider king" ettercap in the forest, or a new religious sect that built anew temple in one of the smaller villages, but which gains popularity, and fast.

    The module describes the situation, major NPCs, major areas, and "common stat blocks" (Say... mercenaries by the sheriff, the dukes's guards, sample orc marauders, and so on...) Then, for each major force/ "mover and shaker", the module details some plans, along with "if X happens, then change Y will occur", and resources... For example- The sheriff will try to frame his major opponent on another ton for a crime, uncover the rebellious group hiding in X, and is secretly organizing the orc raids, in order for him to enforce stricter laws, and possibly be allowed to bring in mercenaries. He has such and such funds, such and such men at his disposal, such and such allies, knowledge of the secret entrances to the duke's fort, a magical item that conceals his lies, and so on... If the PCs stop the framing, he will do X, if they manage to show it is him, he may arrest them/ try to assassinate them with Y and so on...

    I think this can be quite good, and some modules of other systems take a very similar approach. (For example, some Shadowrun modules). I'd highly suggest to find the Fate Core basic book, (You can find it on a "Pay what you want" basis), and read their chapter about adventure and campaign planning. It's.. .quite a different approach, and faaaar more open. (Though that may be possible due to the narrativistic style of play, and far easier ability to improvise on the spot in such a system).

    two more side notes:
    1. I have long been thinking about a campaign I'd like to plan and run, which will most likely be written as a very detailed task-task based module. It will take some time 9RL doesn't give me a lot of time), but I may do it here on the site- a log not of a campaign, but of campaign planning. I'll try to check for interest later).
    2. I once heard a brief definition of railroading which I quite liked, here on these forums, though sadly I don't remember who wrote it: Railroading isn't saying "There is a wall there", but saying "there is a wall everywhere but there".

    I am intrigued by this discussion...

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    Troll in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    At this point I'd like to mention An excellent summary which Yora made some time ago, about the same subject. She sums it up quite nicely, and have an idea for an for a solution, which she called the "Task based adventures". In short, she suggests the modules would detail the setting in which the adventure takes place, a conflict/ occurrence/ which requires/ involves the PCs, and the main forces (antagonist, allies, other NPCs, entities and organizations), and their plans and resources to accomplish their goals, along with a few mentions of "If X happens, then Change Y will occur". but other than that- no set assumed actions, no harsh requirements.
    That used to be how adventures were written, back in the day. To a large degree, Dragonlance kicked off the "story-driven" adventures with heavy plot focus. Pre-Dragonlance modules tended to be written either as straight sandboxes or in exactly the manner you're describing--set up the maps, the loose scenario (if that--many didn't do much there), the villains/opponents/enemies, the treasures, and turn you loose, with some loose guidelines of how player behavior would affect each element.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    That used to be how adventures were written, back in the day. To a large degree, Dragonlance kicked off the "story-driven" adventures with heavy plot focus. Pre-Dragonlance modules tended to be written either as straight sandboxes or in exactly the manner you're describing--set up the maps, the loose scenario (if that--many didn't do much there), the villains/opponents/enemies, the treasures, and turn you loose, with some loose guidelines of how player behavior would affect each element.
    So maybe the solution is "buy really old modules from DriveThruRPG and update them to 3.5/PF/5e"?

    I'm serious. I think I am, anyway.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    I have had a rough sketch of a campaign idea for a long while. I've run parts of it a couple of times; the only part I'm really happy with is the first module. I may try re-examining it, because I didn't approach it from a first-principles basis when I first started writing it.

    Heck, since part of my problem is certain modules "in the middle" to help build the background for the endgame, maybe I'll throw it open on the forums here as a group exercise in figuring out how to do this well.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    So maybe the solution is "buy really old modules from DriveThruRPG and update them to 3.5/PF/5e"?

    I'm serious. I think I am, anyway.
    I don't know if you need to go that far. Just use current modules as a guideline, rather than strict tracks, and you're fine.

    Things like the 'boxed text' or previously described 'cut-scenes' can be distilled down to key information instead. The players need X information - if they choose to sit and listen, the boxed text plays out as written, but maybe they do something else instead. All that's really important to the module, however, is that they get X information somehow before Y event. Any number of events A, B, and C can happen before Y, so work X information in there somewhere and then Y can happen naturally from there.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    I have had a rough sketch of a campaign idea for a long while. I've run parts of it a couple of times; the only part I'm really happy with is the first module. I may try re-examining it, because I didn't approach it from a first-principles basis when I first started writing it.

    Heck, since part of my problem is certain modules "in the middle" to help build the background for the endgame, maybe I'll throw it open on the forums here as a group exercise in figuring out how to do this well.
    Honestly, this is pretty typical for me as well, but I don't see it as a real problem, per se.

    Imo, with these sorts of things, the beginning and end should be the most fleshed out and inclined to a bit of railroading. You want to start and end strong, and just having a vague idea of what the PCs can/should accomplish in the middle gives them the freedom to explore the story/world a bit while still having some goals in mind on your end.

    The game building aspect of FATE has helped me out a lot with this too. Having a strong idea of the organizations and major players in your world, as well as their goals and motivations, helps a lot with reacting naturally to actions your players take.

    So really, your problem is kind of my SOP. Have a beginning and ending planned out in a fair amount of detail, and then general modules for the middle that I can work into a lot of different scenarios that give the players what they need to get to the endgame. Not a bug, but a feature.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by johnbragg View Post
    So maybe the solution is "buy really old modules from DriveThruRPG and update them to 3.5/PF/5e"?

    I'm serious. I think I am, anyway.
    It's not necessary by any stretch, but there were some really great modules back in the old days that would be good to update (or just mine for material to use elsewhere), so I'd suggest doing this anyway, more because the material is good than as a solution to railroading.

    Being a bit of a grognard, I'd suggest just running them in AD&D (1e or 2e largely doesn't matter for running modules--1e material needs slight updating to give enemies THAC0s if using 2e; but 2e modules can be used as-is in 1e) instead of updating to 3.PF, but that's neither here nor there
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Lorsa View Post
    So, can we do anything to solve this issue? Is it possible to write adventure modules that are inherently non-railroady in nature? Can the DMG offer advice or inspiration? Basically, is there a way in which we can provide inspirational material for DMs to help them construct games not as books or movies, but more fitting to the roleplaying medium?
    Railroading gets it's bad name from the extreme, it's like saying fire is bad as it can burn down a house. Yes, there are extreme jerk and extreme bad type DM that railroad ''the way'' everyone does not like, but that does not make all railroading wrong.

    To have any plot or story or even ''a series of lineal events'' the PC's must be railroaded.

    When writing an adventure, it's good to add the ''what if'' type things, but they are only a partial solution. After all most will only add two or three things that happen. And you'd need to do it for every action possible. And every ''what if'' possible too. You'd quickly get a tangle of ''if that happened or this did not happen, but this did and that did not..."

    I think the big problem here is what the players expect from the game. Somehow, lots of players got the idea that the game should be this vague, random, thing that just, um, happens or something. And that really makes no sense.

    If the DM was not ''writing a book'', what exactly would the DM do? Just make up random stuff at random? And even if the DM did that, if they wanted to add even a tiny bit of ''common sense lineal reality'', they would need to start railroading, or just stop the game.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    As has been stated upthread, some limitations are necessary regardless. Every campaign requires some degree of buy-in, and even the broadest scope sandbox will have some restrictions. Hashing out the intended scope of the campaign ahead of time is probably a good idea, as is getting everyone on board with it. Things like the geographical scope of the campaign, the sorts of characters that will work for it, etc. should probably be defined. Even actions taken will generally have restrictions; there are things that PCs can't do in setting because of things like physiology, and then things that are just not what the group wants to deal with. These aren't just on the player side either - the GM is also restricted. If the group as a whole wants something that might be serious but isn't completely depressing, the GM shouldn't run a game that basically comes down to doing harm mitigation for a plague and subsequent societal collapse, with every session involving events like walling in sections of cities that have become extended leper colonies and setting them on fire. What's notable here, is that specific paths don't necessarily need to be restricted.

    Modules and the like are often even more restricted. They cover smaller areas, they need to have broader appeal, so on and so forth. Again though, the specific narrative path taken by characters doesn't need to be restricted. It frequently is, because of how modules are often designed, but that's a quirk of a particular design framework. Probably the most common way of designing them is by delineating either a path or a set of branching paths that the adventure can take. There are major advantages to this - it's easy to run, it doesn't take as much GM skill and judgement as other designs, it's easy to write, it provides a common framework, etc. If branched paths aren't too railroady for you, all's well. If they are, you need another design framework.

    Fortunately, there are other design frameworks. I can't do a very good job with a broad overview of what they are, as I generally don't know them that well. I'm familiar with the path and branched path because I've seen it in modules and been a player for that sort of game. I'm familiar with the concept of a sandbox as a whole because it's a pretty obvious concept. It's also an extensive category that contains a lot of different design frameworks, and of those I'm only really familiar with mine, a little method I like to call Roster-Response. It can work for modules, although not the sort that can be run on GM autopilot. So the question is, how does it work?

    Roster-Response
    Defining Scope
    Everything I was talking about for defining the scope above? That still applies here, and is even more critical. If your game is supposed to be about members of the alchemists guild in the port city of Alhabri, then the scope is geographically limited to the port city of Alhabri (and maybe some surrounding areas), with player characters being limited to members of the alchemists guild. If it's about the crew of a space ship, then the geographical scope is probably limited to a particular collection of planets and the player characters are limited to members of a particular space ship crew. Get this established early, as in before character creation. If people are going to have a problem with a scope of the game, it's better to cancel it entirely than have it come to a crashing halt in session 4.

    Assembling The Roster
    The Roster is essentially a list of significant GM tools for the game. You've got your places, your people, your items, your organizations, etc. What goes here depends a lot on what sort of game you're running - it might have no specific people at all, it might only have specific people and not organizations, it might be a list of places and items more than anything else. It should also be restricted to things that are actually important. If you're running a game about espionage in the late 20th century, you don't need a list of every spy there is. The heads of major spy agencies are probably important. You don't need a list of every last spy gadget. If you're planning on involving a brief case that launches nuclear weapons, that should probably make the list. It's a judgement call as to what ends up on the roster, but there are some best practices.

    Conflicts - The heart of the game is conflicts, and the easiest way to make this happen is to have entities on the roster that want different things. In an extremely simple game, you could have a roster defined with just two organizations, each of which wants the other destroyed. As a rule that's boring though, particularly for a longer campaign. Instead, build so that multiple conflicts can break out, with different stakes and different scales. There's disputes over how to handle limited resources, there's major ideological conflicts by camps that despise each other, there's disputes between people who have fairly similar goals about how to make them happen, what's worth giving up to do it, what they can justify to achieve their goals. As you build a roster, build in different tensions, and have them start with a different effect. Some tensions will be completely underlying, existing as a potential future issue but at present not presenting one. Some are already being expressed through some stage of conflict.

    Activity Levels - Some organizations and individuals are more proactive than others. It's essential that some are proactive though; a completely stable status quo is a bad idea. I'll be talking about response and reaction a bit later, but it's important to have entities actively trying to do things. When building organizations or individuals, make goals that they will actively try to achieve, and give them aspects of the existing situation that they like and are going to try and preserve. The distribution of these two can vary; something like a revolutionary group is liable to be heavy on the goals, the leader of a crumbling nation might be keyed much more heavily towards preservation. When building these for different roster elements, keep in mind the value of conflicts. Set up tensions that position different agents as actors and reactors.

    Roster Size - There are two traps that can be fallen into with roster size. One is having too few elements, which limits the number of responses a GM can reasonably make. The other is having a bloated roster, which tends to be a lot to manage for the GM and a bit much to remember for the players. The key thing to remember with roster size is that when adding an element to a roster, you aren't just adding one thing. You are adding a set of relations between the new element and some of the elements already in the roster, and the more relations that involves, the more complexity you add. If you have 5 faction elements, adding a 6th major faction could easily add 5 major relations. Adding an interesting individual tied to a particular faction is probably going to add 1 or 2. This is something that you'll have to work out for yourself as a GM, but a good starting point for a short campaign is something like 4 significant factions, a dozen or so listed individuals, and maybe a particularly important item or so. Be willing to tweak this though.

    Involving the PCs - Part of building the roster is figuring out where the PCs fit into it. Maybe they are complete outsiders with no established ties whatsoever; even then you might want some sort of likely response thought up for different roster elements. If they're actually tied in, this gets that much more important.

    Starting Conditions - There's a number of different ways to start. Once you have a roster built, you probably have everything existing in either an unstable equilibrium, or moving in a particular direction. That's not a bad place to have it, but it could use a minor change. I generally would establish a status quo (which may include some sort of ongoing change), and then give it a nice hard shove. You've got your prosperous port city, working under normal conditions. That might involve some conflicts between guards and smugglers, old school nobles who built their wealth on agriculture and emerging mercantile nobles, the different classes, religious factions, etc. Still, it has a normal conditions, and that's not necessarily interesting for PCs. So you give it a nice kick. The mayor is murdered, and everyone is grabbing at a power vacuum. Famine hits, people are trying to stay alive, discontent towards the nobility and merchant class from laborers is coming into focus, smugglers start bringing in food at outrageous prices and thus shift who their enemies are, and somewhere in this mess is the PCs.

    Shocks - In addition to the elements representing things that are already in your rosters, it's worth having a class of things outside of them that can be introduced, and which have a major influence. These will come up again in the response section, but for now consider things like invasions, famine, sudden deaths of a character not caused by the shifts in the system you designed, and other such things. A GM can often handle this completely by improvisation, but for less improvisational GMs and module design you want this worked out ahead of time.

    Adjudicating The Response
    Response as Roster-Element Action - The obvious way to look at a response is at the level of the Roster-Element. Something changes, the element responds. These can be simple reactions, or they can be starting a proactive pursuit of some goal or other due to a change in conditions. This is one of the things you'll want to be thinking about when it comes to how your game works, particularly when the PCs do something drastic. Keep it in mind.

    Response as GM Action - With that said, there are a number of different responses possible, and it's the model of response as GM action that helps you pick which, particularly once shocks get involved. The players do their thing (or sit around waffling for too long), and as a GM you choose a response. The roster elements are your tools for building that particular response, and once it's built you then cascade the changes as need be. At any given time, you'll likely be both building a new response and adjudicating changes for existing ones as they ripple through the campaign. This is your tool for working in pacing, for working in events, and for a lot else, and while it can be tempting to see yourself entirely as an adjudicator of what the setting response is, thinking of the roster as your tools for your actions can make the game stronger.

    Response, not Reaction - I've been using the term response here a lot, and it's worth separating that from just systems of reactions. The response system can be reduced into the PCs doing something, those directly affected reacting, the PCs reacting to that, etc. Don't let that happen. Keep in mind the roster as your tools as a GM, and employ them actively.

    Roster Change - One of the big things that can happen due to a response is that the roster changes. Existing roster elements can morph into new things, new roster elements can appear, and roster elements can be completely removed. Factions fade, individuals die, items break, places tend to be more permanent but even then can be wiped off the map. It can be tempting to resist this, to try and preserve your roster. Don't. Revel in the changes, and be entirely willing to watch your hard work come crumbling down. Heck, give it a good shove every so often.

    Shocks - Shocks are one of the big tools you have as a GM for being proactive, and for building in major changes as a module designer. These are where the introduction of new elements comes in, the sudden upheavals appear, so on and so forth. You don't want to overuse them, but when the game starts getting a bit too reaction heavy, introducing a shock can help with that. Just remember that they are a roster element like any other, part of your tool box, and as such if you're doing codified adventure design you might want to have them built in.

    Unused Elements - Depending on where the game goes, some roster elements won't see use or won't see much use. Others will end up cropping up over and over. This is completely fine, and shoehorning in underused elements is a mistake. With that said, if the game is feeling a bit overly simplistic, it can be an effect of the roster in use being a bit too small. So, you give that a nice shock, bring in some new elements, and keep things moving. Still, it's likely for a campaign to end and for your roster to have completely unused characters sitting on it. That's not a problem at all.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Nobot View Post
    To solve this, you'd need GMs who focus on a different part of the role-playing experience and are perhaps more interested in group dynamics, applications of rules, detailed world-building, and so on.
    Playing under such a GM, I can say that it can be hard to steer them back towards running the game, and not continue describing the dwarven tram system (I'm sure the fact none of us knew tracks were used in place of roads was just a coincidence). It's certainly fun, and having played under both him and a 'novel' GM (who literally had ideas for two comic series based on the game's backstories, and liked the idea of using the campaign to complete the 'trilogy'), I can say that the stories from the first were just more engaging. In his homebrew worlds we players at least have a decent idea of where powers come from and what to expect, rather than the 'anything goes' from the second meant that making plans could be a waste of time.

    I think the difference is that one went in with a plot for the story, and the other with a plot for the characters. As in, the entire story in my current game (with GM #1, who I met later) is about the PCs stumbling around trying to deal with two unconnected but related plots, and the GM always has useful stuff for us to do even if the game goes completely off the rails, which has made us engaged enough with the plot to follow the rails. In the campaign I was in with #2 I never really felt like my characters fit in (as I'm not really into Marvel/DC style superheroes), and the plot seemed to focus much more around what the villains had already done rather than what the PCs were doing. It was enjoyable, but it got annoying when overpowered versions of the villains (he admitted up front that they were more powerful than in his planned final battle) were used to have us thrown into the afterlife just so that we wouldn't be around to see the villains crush our organisation (now wouldn't that have been a cooler game?). Oh, and the complaining whenever we took too long to go to the obvious plot points was grating, I just wanted to have some fun that session and explore the gloomy extradimenionsal town for a bit, but no, we had to go and fight the bad guy in the central tower. At least GM #1 is nice enough to let us search for most of the tasty tasty plot, making it all the more enjoyable when we finally catch some guys to question (it took like 10 weeks to get some lowly minions! Partially because we spent like 7 weeks without more than a round of combat happening in total).

    My solution has been to learn to improvise, but I've run into the opposite problem where I present the situation and the players whine about the lack of plot (and I suppose a bunch of zombies appearing in London is an everyday occurrence?), and so have had to try and relearn railroading.
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    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Hyooz View Post
    Things like the 'boxed text' or previously described 'cut-scenes' can be distilled down to key information instead. The players need X information - if they choose to sit and listen, the boxed text plays out as written, but maybe they do something else instead.
    Which makes me wonder why the DM doesn't just distill the information.

    Or why the players are so impatient as to not listen to the information.

    Or why the story is so boring the players won't even stop for a moment to listen.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    Which makes me wonder why the DM doesn't just distill the information.

    Or why the players are so impatient as to not listen to the information.

    Or why the story is so boring the players won't even stop for a moment to listen.
    Usually, the complaint about railroading during boxed text has more to do with the PCs having reason to act within the middle of it. For instance, if they feel that person needs to be silenced or stopped, or if the boxed text includes actions being taken with which they would like to interfere.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    Which makes me wonder why the DM doesn't just distill the information.

    Or why the players are so impatient as to not listen to the information.

    Or why the story is so boring the players won't even stop for a moment to listen.
    Because an entertaining monologue is hard. It's much easier to keep people entertained if two people are talking. The general idea with IC discussions is to keep players attention, and if I can't use replies I've thought up I'll tend to not pay attention.

    The main reason I can see for distilling information is to deliver it in a discussion instead of a speech, so that the players still feel like there's agency.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    At this point I'd like to mention An excellent summary which Yora made some time ago, about the same subject. She sums it up quite nicely, and have an idea for an for a solution, which she called the "Task based adventures". In short, she suggests the modules would detail the setting in which the adventure takes place, a conflict/ occurrence/ which requires/ involves the PCs, and the main forces (antagonist, allies, other NPCs, entities and organizations), and their plans and resources to accomplish their goals, along with a few mentions of "If X happens, then Change Y will occur". but other than that- no set assumed actions, no harsh requirements.
    One place where I have seen this done is in superhero RPGs. Quite a few of the published adventures I've seen, in several game systems, give you the villains' goals, resources, plans, and timeline, and leave the PCs free to deal with it however they choose.
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    Usually, the complaint about railroading during boxed text has more to do with the PCs having reason to act within the middle of it. For instance, if they feel that person needs to be silenced or stopped, or if the boxed text includes actions being taken with which they would like to interfere.
    There's also the matter of how module box text tends to suck.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    I could expound at great lengths on how I personally avoid railroads while simultaneously maintaining plot, but it honestly depends on the system I'm playing and the feel I'm going for. But I can give some ideas:

    Look into Stars Without Number and its Faction/GM Turn section. It's a free PDF, so there isn't any cost except time cost. The GM Turn is handy for creating large-scale worlds with many factions that are in conflict. It is incredibly portable and can easily be reskinned to fit most settings. It takes a bit of homebrewing, but who hasn't tweaked a few things and/or slapped on some new names?

    For small-scale problems I typically use a system similar to Apocalypse World's Fronts. Basically, each Front is made of multiple Threats. Each Threat has a cast of characters, a dark ambition/future and a countdown clock that moves closer to zero either over time generally or according to triggering events. (Even other countdown clocks reaching certain stages)

    These systems are both potentially influenced by PC actions. In the former, if the PCs become powerful enough they may actually PARTICIPATE in the GM Turn and guide their faction. Until then, their influence will be relatively small.
    In the latter, the PCs have much greater influence over the results of the countdown clocks, and their actions will probably make it necessary to change/remove/add countdown clocks pretty regularly. (Which is why you always have so many. To make sure that something, somewhere, is on the verge of collapse and ruination. )

    Otherwise, my usual advice is to treat the whole world like an NPC. Think about what's happening off-screen. (Basically, imagine what the villain is doing while the PCs are farting around in the dungeon. Imagine what the Hightower Pirate Fleet is plotting. Imagine what corruption Gritch is whispering into precious Margo's beautiful ears. Think about these things and put the signs of the coming storm into the sky. Put the darkness in their hands in little ways. "You find a necklace in the mud. It has blood on it."
    "The dirt is freshly dug off the side of the road. It smells of smoke and burning fat."
    "You knock on Margo's door. No one answers."

    Also, generally speaking, describe weird details to your players. It weirds them out and puts them off balance. Zoom in on pointless details. Like...
    "So you grab him from behind, and as you wrench his neck sharply to the side, you feel his last breath hit your fingertips. It strikes you that even though he had stubble, his lips were very soft."

    "The photos on the pinboard are held up with novelty pins with little pictures from cities on the heads. A Las Vegas one, a Cincinatti one, etcetera. One of them, though, the head broke off at some point."

    Both of those are weird little details to throw into the general description. Do it sparingly, but at least once or twice per session. Just watch how they react to just slightly more detail than necessary. It's a fun time.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    One of the best, though hardest, solutions, to pre-written module railroading is have the forced decisions be things that the players want. Taking a trip is a lot better if you like the destination. Of course, this requires a keen ear for player desire and a healthy round of playtesting to make sure that you're not just navel gazing.
    Also, take cues from games like the Telltale Walking Dead games in that most choices are really side routes that all take you back to the same place.
    Little changes as well as big ones are also important, like having someone you saved run into you and hale you as their rescuer instead of a family member or loved one mournfully wishing you could have done more but ultimately admitting you did your best. Not every choice has to Change Everything! in some world shattering way.
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    I tend to avoid solutions offered by videogames except to novice GMs or those who are really bad at improv.

    The reason why isn't because they're bad solutions per se, they're good solutions. The thing about it is, they are good solutions for VIDEOGAMES, where all possibilities within the game must be made ahead of time, and the game has no ability to improvise new situations. Tabletop games don't necessarily fall into these traps, so we are able to use different (and better) solutions because we have the power of imagination, which the computer lacks.

    But again, for those of us with less experience, these are good starter solutions to build yourself up to the harder, but way cooler stuff. I'm saying this as someone who used to use a lot of the simple solutions talked about, and now after 13 years as perma-GM (I had an 8 year period of never being a Player even once in the middle there) I've expanded my bag of tools. It's a skill. Practice, try new things, don't be afraid to make dumb decisions and apologize for them later. Just let your players know you'll be trying something new, and to expect hiccups and oddities.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    One thing you can do with modules is to mine them for material instead of run them. Ignore the module plot and just pilfer the maps, treasures, NPC stats, enemy encounters, and suchlike. Use them--several at once, usually--to cut down on your prep time for your own game. Ready-made maps and encounters are a godsend to a lazy DM like myself. They can really take a lot of work off you, and help you improvise quickly. Then, instead of running a defined plot, figure out the setup for the game, the setting for the game, the antagonists and their motives, and go largely session-by-session. Don't plan an ending, or be willing to scrap it if you do. Adjust the game as you go.

    Have a few different hooks, different things going on, that the PCs could get involved in, and follow what they latch onto instead of herding them toward a specific planned adventure. Allow the players to go places you haven't planned for--you can call a short break and use bits and pieces of modules to give you quick session material if they've gone completely off from what you prepped. If you had an area worked out that they've skipped, for example a small town, you can file the proverbial serial numbers off and use that material later on in the campaign (or even in another campaign later) in another town or city to cut down prep time. It's important to tweak it so as to not have a "quantum ogre" scenario, and to use it in a place it could logically go without forcing the players into it, but done right you can still reuse prior prepwork without anyone noticing. After the session, figure out how the various factions and locations would respond to the player actions during the session, as in Knaight's method, and build the next session from there. Don't get too far out ahead of the players.

    It's less work --and also less open in some ways since less is designed and available for the PCs from the start--than a "real" sandbox game, but since you're not defining a "plot" ahead of time and can fairly easily allow the players to do what they want or skip content or go where you didn't expect, it can still carry a lot of the same open-ended feel.
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Lorsa View Post
    There are those who enjoy participationism and don't regard railroading as a problem. I recognize that. This thread is not about arguing whether or not railroading is a problem, it is stated as a premise. If you don't agree with the premise, you are still free to participate in the thread, but I am not writing this to debate that point.

    In order to provide some background; I recently bought the 5e core rulebooks, and decided to pick up an adventure module as well, which ended up being "Horde of the Dragon Queen". I haven't read a written adventure in a very long time, so one could hope my eyes were fresh and untouched by prior judgement. However, it occurred to me that the only way to run the adventure was to railroad. It was even implied in the text with sentences such as "Before the characters arrive, X event must take place" (not a direct quote). What followed was also something that can best be described as a "cut-scene" where the assumption was that the PCs mainly sit and watch as an NPC talks to them.
    It is a bit railroady but I think the issue you're having is that the adventure is designed as series of site based adventures that require previous sites be dealt with before the next opens up. For the most part players can deal with each site as they see fit. There adventure evens goes to some length to try and explain why the characters are the only ones capable of dealing with the threat. There are problems with Horde of the Dragon Queen, but the structure is probably the least of them.

    Most of the WotC adventure paths thus far are best viewed as a series of gated scenarios where completing one scenario opens up the next. After a fashion they're really just a bunch of individual adventures linked by a common story.

    This got me thinking about the railroading problem again, which by the many stories told, seem to be far too common around roleplaying tables across the world. Mainly, I am curious as to why it is so common, and possible also what can be done to minimize its occurrence.

    Reading the adventure book, the answer to the first question seemed rather obvious. It seems as though prospective DMs simply suffer from lack of inspirational material.

    A roleplaying game can not be set up like a book, or a movie, or a computer game. Yet this is the place where most people seem to draw their inspiration from. The phrase "if you want to tell a story, go write a book" is a common anti-railroading DM sentiment. But why do DMs try to write books at their table? Well, that's what they are familiar with, the source material for their creativity if you will.

    This makes it doubly disappointing that written adventures follow the same railroading model, as they are the only other source available to most DMs. It appears as though the only non-railroading inspirational source is other roleplaying games where the current DM has already learnt to avoid it. Otherwise, there is really nothing.

    So, can we do anything to solve this issue? Is it possible to write adventure modules that are inherently non-railroady in nature? Can the DMG offer advice or inspiration? Basically, is there a way in which we can provide inspirational material for DMs to help them construct games not as books or movies, but more fitting to the roleplaying medium?
    Is there a way to stop railroads? Sure stop building them, but that isn't really good advice. Nor is it strictly necessary in my view. The worst railroads are the ones where the GM wont the players try anything different. But a published adventure needs to have structure which can look a lot like a railroad. Some are better at providing this structure then others, but there needs to be some kind of structure to make an adventure function. The players always need to do at least some of A, B or C to get to X, Y and Z, the only difference is how well that requirement is hidden by offering a variety of goals to be completed as gates to the next part.

    To be completely devoid of railroad tends to lead to action paralysis since most players want some kind of clear goal, even if that goal is just go kill stuff in the Mountains of Madness.
    Last edited by Beleriphon; 2016-03-09 at 09:08 AM.

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    One thing you can do with modules is to mine them for material instead of run them.
    This is a really good piece of advice, IMHO. Your players, either on purpose or by accident, will eventually 'break' the module (let's throw the prince in the river!).

    You defnlee need contingencies in place; but they shouldn't ignore any changes caused by the players; but embrace them.


    Though that's not the point I wanted to add, just wanted to comment on JAL's advice.


    As a player and GM/DM; I've seen the video-gamer attitude become more and more prevalent amongst players.. I think defeating this outlook; or at least, massaging it away is intrinsically linked to the Railroad problem. Because if players just want a game where Key A opens Door A; kill all monsters and get loot; and that's all they are conditioned to expect.. railroading is the inevitable follow-up.. and they'll avoid instances of choice and just wait for the DM to tell them where to go so they can roll dice more.

    And that's kinda not the point to the whole RP aspect of RPG's..

    So yeah, a player who 'video-games' might be part of the source of the railroad problem.. and they might need a little more encouragement towards acting in-character, but once they see that an RPG is more then just smacking things with their sword, or cane, or axe.. but that they can influence the world around them with their words and non-violent actions; woo boy.. we're off to the races..

    and of course, this requires the GM/DM to use NPC's as more than just 'Text Box Dispensers'; but movable pieces of the plot.

  28. - Top - End - #28
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PirateWench

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Lots of posts, which is good! I will try to reply a little to most, but don't be sad if you are left out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    The better a job the module does of spelling out the situation and who's doing what without the PCs' actions, and who is looking for somebody (who could be the PCs) to do something, the easier it is to run it as a non-railroad. The key, I think, is in writing the situation, rather than the solution.
    So why isn't this "the standard"? Many DMs follow the concept of official adventures and write situation+solution+next situation+event-to-take-place-to-give-plot-hook+solution etc. My assertion was that it boils down to a lack of inspirational material, but how come official adventures fall into this trap as well? Is there a reason why modules are inherently railroady?


    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    Most players chafe at railroading when it prevents them from doing something they want to do or forces them to do something they don't. A more subtle form of railroading that's easier for a DM to fail to realize they've done, but that will usually result in the same player resentment, is crafting a plot when you think you're crafting a situation, such that it plays out the same as if you'd plotted it--taking away too many options or having too few acceptable solutions. Narrowing the ways a situation can be interacted with and resolved until only one way to do it (or very specific ways the players aren't thinking of) remains, so that the players feel forced to do it the DM's way or not at all.
    Why is it so easy to tall into this trap you think? What can be done to help DMs avoid it?


    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    When the module sets things up such that nothing but a predefined solution (or set of solutions) will work, it feels like railroading (because it usually is). It tells players that their 24 strength half-ogre barbarian can't shatter a simple wooden door because the solution requires them to find the key to unlock it, instead. Or that the door is actually adamantine, despite it making no sense for that to exist in the location it does.

    The common counter-argument is, "But I don't want to just let them have whatever they suggest work! That's just happy wish-fulfillment time, and there's no accomplishment if they always succeed no matter what they try!"

    That's a false dichotomy. The middle ground the GM should seek (and the module writer should try to design) is one where there are many possible solutions based on the design of the scenario, not ONLY the ones the module-writer or GM thought up when he developed the scenario.
    A good description of why one (the?) counter-argument to railroading doesn't hold up. The question then is; since this is so obvious, how come railroading is so common?


    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Part of the main reasons we stopped, was due to the railroading, and the assumptions. The party wanted to go on very divergent routes from the modules, or explore vastly different interests. There are some situations in the paths that. as mentioned, assume a very set way of solving stuff, and really give no thought, or no space to other solutions...
    This is also the reason why I have avoided pre-written adventures for the most part of my roleplaying career. I have occasionally used dungeons created by others, but that is another story I find.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Or in short- The module should detail a more contained setting, one or more conflicts, and the means of each major powers to try and achieve them. Through in the PCs, and just see what happens, and... adjust and improvise, as needed.

    For example: In a small duchy, the duke has become more and more recluse since the death of his wife, and his sheriff has "taken liberties" securing the area, and is accumulating power. yet he is corrupt, and various outside forces start making advances- be them orc marauders, the "spider king" ettercap in the forest, or a new religious sect that built anew temple in one of the smaller villages, but which gains popularity, and fast.

    The module describes the situation, major NPCs, major areas, and "common stat blocks" (Say... mercenaries by the sheriff, the dukes's guards, sample orc marauders, and so on...) Then, for each major force/ "mover and shaker", the module details some plans, along with "if X happens, then change Y will occur", and resources... For example- The sheriff will try to frame his major opponent on another ton for a crime, uncover the rebellious group hiding in X, and is secretly organizing the orc raids, in order for him to enforce stricter laws, and possibly be allowed to bring in mercenaries. He has such and such funds, such and such men at his disposal, such and such allies, knowledge of the secret entrances to the duke's fort, a magical item that conceals his lies, and so on... If the PCs stop the framing, he will do X, if they manage to show it is him, he may arrest them/ try to assassinate them with Y and so on...

    I think this can be quite good, and some modules of other systems take a very similar approach. (For example, some Shadowrun modules). I'd highly suggest to find the Fate Core basic book, (You can find it on a "Pay what you want" basis), and read their chapter about adventure and campaign planning. It's.. .quite a different approach, and faaaar more open. (Though that may be possible due to the narrativistic style of play, and far easier ability to improvise on the spot in such a system).
    This is exactly what I'd like to get out of a module as well, and how I would write one myself. But I still haven't really found the answer to the question; why aren't they written this way?


    Quote Originally Posted by JAL_1138 View Post
    That used to be how adventures were written, back in the day. To a large degree, Dragonlance kicked off the "story-driven" adventures with heavy plot focus. Pre-Dragonlance modules tended to be written either as straight sandboxes or in exactly the manner you're describing--set up the maps, the loose scenario (if that--many didn't do much there), the villains/opponents/enemies, the treasures, and turn you loose, with some loose guidelines of how player behavior would affect each element.
    So if that is how things used to be, how come it stopped?


    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Railroading gets it's bad name from the extreme, it's like saying fire is bad as it can burn down a house. Yes, there are extreme jerk and extreme bad type DM that railroad ''the way'' everyone does not like, but that does not make all railroading wrong.

    To have any plot or story or even ''a series of lineal events'' the PC's must be railroaded.

    When writing an adventure, it's good to add the ''what if'' type things, but they are only a partial solution. After all most will only add two or three things that happen. And you'd need to do it for every action possible. And every ''what if'' possible too. You'd quickly get a tangle of ''if that happened or this did not happen, but this did and that did not..."

    I think the big problem here is what the players expect from the game. Somehow, lots of players got the idea that the game should be this vague, random, thing that just, um, happens or something. And that really makes no sense.

    If the DM was not ''writing a book'', what exactly would the DM do? Just make up random stuff at random? And even if the DM did that, if they wanted to add even a tiny bit of ''common sense lineal reality'', they would need to start railroading, or just stop the game.
    I believe I have seen this argument form you before, and it seems to me that you suffer from exactly the very problem I described in my first post. You can't imagine how a roleplaying game could be different from a book, simply because you haven't seen it.

    It is true that in order to have a series of pre-defined linear events, you must railroad. However, ALL events will appear linear when viewed in retrospect, so the question comes down to if you want them to be pre-defined or not.

    What the DM is to do instead of writing a book? Running the world. Coming up with situations that happens to the characters at the place they are located right now (as apart from where the DM wants them to be in the future).

    The roleplaying medium is unique in the sense that it allows changes to the events that takes place based on all participants, instead of just the author. If you take away this uniqueness, it is actually worse than books, movies or video games, which are much better at conveying pre-written stories.

    Common sense comes from ascribing plausible consequences to the players' actions, not from controlling them.


    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Fortunately, there are other design frameworks. I can't do a very good job with a broad overview of what they are, as I generally don't know them that well. I'm familiar with the path and branched path because I've seen it in modules and been a player for that sort of game. I'm familiar with the concept of a sandbox as a whole because it's a pretty obvious concept. It's also an extensive category that contains a lot of different design frameworks, and of those I'm only really familiar with mine, a little method I like to call Roster-Response. It can work for modules, although not the sort that can be run on GM autopilot. So the question is, how does it work?

    Roster-Response
    How do we get DMs to get in contact with these other design frameworks? Can we make them more easily available somehow?


    Quote Originally Posted by goto124 View Post
    Which makes me wonder why the DM doesn't just distill the information.

    Or why the players are so impatient as to not listen to the information.

    Or why the story is so boring the players won't even stop for a moment to listen.
    Many of these "boxes" includes actions taken by NPCs other than talking. For example, in the Horde of the Dragon Queen,
    Spoiler
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    one NPC comes up to the characters, sticks her dagger into their food plates, stirs around and takes up some root? that is used as poison. After this, she explains this was put there by a group the characters are watching and how they (the characters) should come and speak with her.
    Problem is that it assumes a lot of things from the players,
    Spoiler
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    starting with them eating breakfast at all, to allowing an unfamiliar person to stir around in their food uninterrupted.
    So the choices you are limited to as a DM are; describe the events fast enough for the players to have no chance to react, have the NPC cast Mass Hold Person or something if they try to act, or simply tell the players "you can't do that".

    It's not about players being impatient, as it's about it being logical for them to act.


    Quote Originally Posted by ImNotTrevor View Post
    I could expound at great lengths on how I personally avoid railroads while simultaneously maintaining plot, but it honestly depends on the system I'm playing and the feel I'm going for. But I can give some ideas:
    How did you learn how to avoid railroads? Did you have any experience with a prior DM who also did such, or did you have to come up with it yourself? Would you say it was natural to you, or did you learn it over many years?

    Quote Originally Posted by ImNotTrevor View Post
    I tend to avoid solutions offered by videogames except to novice GMs or those who are really bad at improv.
    Agreed. Video game solutions don't need to be applied to a medium that can skip or bypass the problem entirely.
    Last edited by Lorsa; 2016-03-09 at 10:16 AM.
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  29. - Top - End - #29
    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Quote Originally Posted by Lorsa View Post
    Why is it so easy to tall into this trap you think? What can be done to help DMs avoid it?
    I'm not sure why it happens so often. Usually because of trying to design something to play out a particular way because you think it'll be cool, or good for the story, or because it'll help move the campaign a certain direction, or because you want to use a certain encounter in certain terrain. To avoid it, be aware of it, and let things the players suggest work if they're at all reasonable instead of trying to force it to go how you'd planned.

    Brief anecdote: I had an orc encampment set in a canyon in some cliffs. I meant for it to be a tough fight. There's really just one way in or out, other than rappelling down the cliffs (which would result in getting picked off by archers). The Fighter says he looks up at the cliffs to see if there's a dead pine tree. I think for a minute and agree that there would probably be one, but I don't know where he's going with it. So he climbs the cliffs (passes the check), chops the tree down, pushes it so it falls right into the middle of the encampment (passes the Str check). Then he throws a lit flask of oil onto it. If you've ever seen a dead pine tree catch fire, they go up like they're made of some innovative solid form of kerosene. The camp could have survived a Fireball or Burning Hands because those are fairly brief sources of flame--bits of it may have smoldered but things wouldn't have gone up in an inferno. But with a large burning pine tree in the middle of it, the camp is set ablaze. Due to the fire, the orcs try to leave out of the narrow entrance to the canyon, can't see well due to the smoke, are taking damage from the fire and smoke, and the fight is more of a massacre by the PCs than the tough fight I intended.


    So if that is how things used to be, how come it stopped?
    Lots of reasons. A few might be:

    Partly because of Dragonlance. Dragonlance was really innovative at the time--published modules had never really had such a tight story focus before, even if the Dragonlance adventures were quite railroady. And they sold, and sold quite well. So that style of module-writing spread to other properties to cash in, and story-driven, linear modules became more of a thing. Epic stories replaced epic locations.

    Also because it's easier to write linearly in some respects. You have to take fewer contingencies into account, and you can determine how the story goes much more than you can with an open-ended one. When trying to "write a module," most people seem to naturally think in terms of an overarching story to tie it together instead of having a bunch of maps and enemy stats.

    It's easier to sell, in some ways--you need less experience to run a linear module than to run an open-ended one, and you can pitch it as an epic story of plot twists and betrayals and triumphs and such instead of "a new area to explore."

    New, inexperienced DMs--who you need to reach to sell products--may have craved more guidance and structure than the old modules gave.

    And because the old module-writers who wrote the more open-ended ones gradually shifted out and were replaced.

    EDIT: Organized play is also a factor. To maintain setting consistency for multiple groups, events largely have to flow from one to another A to B to C, so that one character didn't end up defeating the BBEG in the second adventure of Season 1 while another didn't, and one table to have thwarted the plan to destroy the city when Season 2 is written on the assumption it's been destroyed.
    Last edited by JAL_1138; 2016-03-09 at 11:47 AM.
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  30. - Top - End - #30
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    SolithKnightGuy

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    Default Re: The railroading problem: source & solution

    Some amount of railroading is inherent in a pre-written adventure path. However, I have wondered if you could make a linked campaign which is less railroad-y with a sufficient library of modules.

    If any of you have played PFS - you know that it is based around dozens of modules - maybe hundreds by now - which you can play. Each one is for a decent level spread (1-5/1-7/5-9 etc.) and have at least 2-3 difficulties of play based around the level of the participants. So, for a 1-5 module, there's a level 4-5 version, and a level 1-2 version where the enemies are weaker, and perception DCs are lower etc. If the group averages level 3, they vote to play 'down' for safety or 'up' for more risk/treasure. This means that at any level, there are a good chunk of potential module options to choose from.

    Now - each module is a bit railroad-y. You are basically part of an adventuring guild, and they're set up like Mission Impossible episodes - "This module, if you choose to accept it...". It works pretty well for random PCs playing together.

    However, I've wondered whether they, or modules like them, could be linked in a sort of pick-a-path style for home games. Where, at the end of your current module, the GM - within the campaign through NPCs etc. - tells you about potential adventure hooks you can choose, and that dictates which module the GM prepares for the next session. Would that still be too railroad-y?
    Last edited by CharonsHelper; 2016-03-09 at 11:41 AM.

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